Who? What? Where!
Whoowasit? Is a co-operative deduction game for children by renowned designer Reiner Knizia. Featuring a talking cat, a mischievous raven, a missing ring and a scary ghost, it has all the ingredients for a classic. But can this famous designer of heavyweight adult strategy games turn his skills to the family market?
Players in Whoowasit? take on the role of children who must search a castle for a stolen ring, uncovering the identity of the thief by feeding animals their favourite foods and interrogating them to gain clues. Failure to do so within the allotted time will mean the evil wizard gets control of the kingdom. Success requires remembering which animal wants what food, deciphering their clues to eliminate from the range of suspects in a Guess-Who style mini-game, and basic spatial understanding to plan quick routes round the board.
If that sounds like a great background for kids to make their very own fairy story, you’d be absolutely right. Co-operative games like this, where everyone contributes to beating the challenge and win or lose together, are great for families. And the lack of competition means the focus can be on other areas, such as storytelling. The game weaves a delightful narrative, aided and abetted by a series of random events that add excitement and variety to the game. And because they aren’t referred to in the rules or tutorial, they bring surprise and delight when they occur.
However, they also muddy the water when it comes to learning the game. Aspects of the rules are not entirely clear, and while the tutorial is approachable, it does little to cover the gaps. Unlike most cooperative games, it does have AI players who will also advise the humans on making choices, and there’s a friendly cat narrator to offer hints, but there’s still a lot to grasp. So children young enough to properly enjoy the simple fairy story setting won’t be able to learn or play this without an adult helping. It’s also relatively long for a children’s game at about 30 minutes, so younger ones will need a little encouragement to last the course.
The original board game on which this is based has a central electronic gizmo which randomly assigns clues and favoured foods to animals and secrets to rooms as well as governing those unexpected events. This is not only competently reproduced in this iOS version but improved on, adding a magic spell mini-game that requires players to draw symbols on the screen with their finger. It also boasts improved voices and sound over the original, and there’s an option which allows you to use the iPad in place of the chest in the physical version to gain those benefits.
The voices aren’t exactly stellar work though, with sentences chopped up and recombined for different circumstances and, oddly, all the castle animals being supplied by the same actor. The background music is pleasing and atmospheric though. One thing to note is that there’s a lot of talking in the game and no option for subtitles so it can’t be played quietly. Graphics are mostly lifted from the board game and are serviceable, if a little rough.
But once you and your kids get stuck in to solving the mystery, you’ll cease to care about the minor shortcomings of the introduction and the interface, and just enjoy the ride. The memory elements are sufficient to challenge even an adult without a pen and paper, while the random setup and unpredictable events keep things thrilling and encourages repeat plays. To add to the longevity there are three different difficulty settings corresponding to slightly different board layouts with new secrets to uncover on the higher levels. The tension ramps up as the clock ticks down and there are still animals to be fed and clues uncovered. And right at the end you’ll have one or more nail-biting chances to open a chest and see if you’ve guessed right at the identity of the thief.
Whoowasit? is an endearing and engaging game, which offers a lot of charm, a lot of narrative and a lot of excitement for primary school age children. It’s let down slightly by a few poor interface choices, and by the fact that it’s a little too long and complex for the age group that’s likely to enjoy it most. But if you want a genuine family board game where adults and children can play together, with adults guiding the choices of the youngsters and feeding off their imagination in return, it’s an excellent choice.